Extreme heat complicates Aussie logistics

Martin Rogers
January 28, 2009

The leading players who petitioned for the Australian Open to be moved back into February have been given a helping hand from the weather gods.

To allow for greater preparation time, stars such as Roger Federer have argued in favor of delaying the tournament in future years.

Yet as temperatures soared to record levels, the weather conditions provided a new and frankly more compelling reason why the event could be better off being staged slightly later.

The mercury rose to an incredible 120 degrees on Tuesday and was still just under the 100 mark at 10 p.m.

Officials were forced to implement the event’s Extreme Heat Policy, which uses a special formula involving air temperature, wind, solar radiation and humidity to determine whether it is safe to play outdoors.

However, that did not pacify Svetlana Kuznetsova, who came within three points of beating Serena Williams but fell away in the third set once the roof was winched across to keep out the blistering sun.

Williams looked thoroughly uncomfortable while the match was being contested outdoors, yet had a chance to regroup in the 20-minute break while the roof was shut and booked her place in the semifinals.

Grand Slam tennis is supposed to be the ultimate test of a player, but in conditions of such drastic heat as these, it is more about mind and will than tennis ability.

Factors such as the timing of and associated recovery time from a player’s previous round come strongly into play.

The current temperatures are exceptional -- among the hottest data on record in Australia -- yet a scorching January in Melbourne is still to be expected.

Seeing leading players forced off the court in distress, as with Victoria Azarenka and Novak Djokovic earlier in the tournament, does no one any favors.

Rafael Nadal could be the player most negatively affected if, as expected, the roof remains closed for the rest of the Australian Open.

Nadal’s incredible fitness levels make him arguably the best equipped to handle hot weather and furthermore, the conditions when the roof is shut rob his ground strokes of some kick and bounce.